When United Way of Yellowstone County wanted information about managing tight budgets, it asked some experts: Billings women who are successfully managing budgets with less money than most local families.
The findings are reported in “Making Ends Meet,” prepared by Elizabeth Eberlin, an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer, and Katherine Shandera of United Way.
They convened a focus group of eight women who were invited to participate because all have less than the Yellowstone County median income based on family size, none have a late or default bill payment in the past 12 months and none had a debt-to-income ratio exceeding 51 percent.
Those criteria narrowed the field. United Way asked local nonprofit agencies to recommend clients for the study and all participants volunteered.
The group included women ranging in age from 27 to 66. They live in households of one to seven people. Six have household incomes below $20,000 a year and none reported income of more than $40,000.
This report is chock full of money-saving tips:
One stay-at-home mother of three earns gas money by selling plasma, but rides the city bus when she can to save even more. She buys groceries in bulk and uses food stamps.
For cheap entertainment, the family reads books, visits relatives, goes to the park to blow bubbles, goes to the YMCA and the library and watches Netflix for $7 a month.
A working single mom with three young children taught them a lesson about savvy shopping when the children clamored for a name-brand breakfast cereal advertised on TV. Just once, she bought the name brand cereal and an off-brand for them. The kids couldn’t tell the difference and now like to point out to their mother how commercials “try to trick you.”
Eberlin and Shandera found that everyone in the group shared these success factors:
Understanding basic money management and strategies for saving.
Maintaining an emergency savings fund.
Limiting or eliminating credit card use.
Attending financial education classes.
Finding inexpensive substitutes for grocery items and cooking at home.
A working knowledge of community resources.
Spiritual beliefs and/or faith communities that serve as support systems and positive influences on financial management.
Taking pride in their ability to make ends meet.
Eliminating negative or abusive factors in personal relationships.
Passing on healthy financial habits to the next generation.
Being self-motivated and working hard.
A number of local community organizations and businesses have provided financial education classes geared toward people with very limited means. The United Way focus group indicates that financial education is a good investment.
The success stories also indicate the value of spreading the word about community services, so people can connect with them, get appropriate help, overcome problems and move on with their lives. Financial education empowers people to make the most of their resources.